Not to the cynical levels of declaring that more ‘natural disasters‘ happen during election years, but it is true that the public perception of how candidates react is an important feature of the American political process.
Since hurricane Katrina in 2005, a president choosing to not survey the damage or sympathize with the sufferers in person has become a national symbol of neglect — the power of the president to bring the spotlight to the area is considered an important element to the whole repair and recovery efforts.
Any natural disaster can swing public opinion, but what about one that happens only 31 days from a presidential election?
Already there are calls for the governor of Florida to extend voter registration deadlines, since most public services have been disrupted during the final week of registration.
But the real problems, both logistical and political will happen over the next few weeks until election time.
Huge numbers fled the state before the approach of the hurricane, with many not even knowing if they’ll have homes to return to when the crisis is over.
The aspect of displaced voters could be overwhelming — what happens when a large chunk of the population has been displaced outside of their normal voting wards and precincts?
This could affect the red/blue nature of Florida’s political map, considering that some of the ‘bluest’ counties are going to be the hardest ones hit by this disaster.
Even worse, natural disasters tend to take everything when it comes to property, personal papers and keepsakes, and finances — can the state replace lost IDs fast enough or issue new mail-in ballots for those destroyed?
The logistical problems are overwhelming in a state of 20 million Americans — especially in a state where every single vote counts because of the narrowest of margins.
Equally, politics of the disaster could be its own ‘disaster’ to the different candidates, vying to maintain ‘presidential composure’ in these final weeks.
President Obama has probably learned the political lesson from Louisiana flooding this year. The public will judge a late appearance to the disaster — even when asked to stay away.
All of the candidates will almost certainly be there to ‘lend a hand’ for the cameras, talk to those who have been displaced, and sympathize with those suffering the worst traumas — that’s just what we expect out of a candidate.
A smooth effort from the Executive Department could lift the Democratic chances in the election, while a ‘Katrina-style’ disaster from FEMA and other agencies would almost certainly boost the credibility of the Republicans.
It’s sad that a natural disaster might be the final deciding feature of the 2016 election, but in reality, how a president or candidate acts under the worst pressures of the job and under unpredictable crises America will face is a measure of how they’ll do their job.
But at the same time, we need to look for candidates that can inspire others to donate their time and money to provide relief for those who have been affected by the destruction — and not just which candidate has the better photo-op during the aftermath of the crisis.
Because while the president can’t stop natural disasters, the president can be a source of political inspiration for others to find ways to help.
And all of the candidates know that the spotlight of the nation is on Florida and the Atlantic Coast — a political gaffe here could be the final mistake of a long campaign.